The strawberry season is winding down in the region, but there’s still a little time to get out and enjoy those dazzling red berries that are currently ripened to perfection in the farm fields. If you hurry, you can head out to one of the farms that let you pick your own strawberries.
At Garwood Orchard in LaPorte, the u-pick fields are open daily from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. and they expect the fruit to last into the first few days of July.
The farm is now in the 7th generation of the Garwood Family. While prices in the store run $3.75 per quart, you can head out to the fields to pick your own for $1.75 per pound for up to 20 pounds. If you pick more than 20 pounds, the price drops to $1.50 a pound. Guests who come to pick should plan on bringing a container to transport berries home or boxes can be purchased there for $1 each.
Johnson’s Farm Produce in Hobart kicked off the u-pick strawberry season with their annual Strawberry Madness Festival, which took place on June 15 and 16, featuring strawberry desserts, cooking classes and a Strawberry Shortcake character. The 200-acre farm is being run by a fourth generation.
At Johnson’s, the going price is $9 per bucket for u-pick. If you pick six buckets, you pay for five and the sixth is free. A pre-picked bucket in the store is $13. Shuttles take you out to fields where you get buckets to fill. The buckets go home with you, so you don’t need to transfer to separate containers. Cash or check can be used to pay at the exit to the fields.
Kim Workman made the one-hour trip to Johnson’s from Bolingbrook, Ill. last week with her three kids after a neighbor told her about the place. “I just thought it would be a fun experience with the kids,” said Workman. “We like doing things outside and didn’t have much on schedules for the day and thought we would make the trip down.”
Workman said her family enjoyed it so much she’s thinking of making a return trip with her mother and sister. “It’s something we’ve been wanting to try and we’ll definitely do it again,” she said.
Once they returned home from their outing, some of their pickings were quickly made into strawberry ice cream. The Workman family also had plans to share some, freeze some and make strawberry jam and strawberry shortcake.
Heather Norwalk, of Crown Point, recently took her two daughters, ages 4 and 6, for their first trip to go strawberry picking at Johnson’s Farm Produce. “We do apple picking, but this is the first time the girls picked strawberries. They had fun the whole time. They’re excited to go blueberry picking now,” she said.
After their picking adventure, strawberry shortcake was on the menu that night. Norwalk expected the rest of their two buckets to quickly be eaten up by her family right from the container.
“I wanted to go pick so that the girls can see where the fruit comes from and just for the experience," said Norwalk. “And to show them that it’s not easy work, that this is someone’s job to pick fruit every day.”
Strawberry picking isn’t the only business at either place. Both Garwood Orchards and Johnson’s Farm Produce have farm stands where you can purchase fresh fruits and veggies, some grown on their property. Garwood will soon have raspberries and cherries available for U-Pick and later in the season will be peaches, plums and apples. A variety of vegetables can also be picked for purchase.
At Johnson’s Farm Produce, they will roll into blueberry season in July once the strawberries are done. A Blueberry Madness Festival is scheduled for July 13 with a jam making demonstration, pancake breakfast, face painting and pie eating contest.
Tips for picking:
• Call ahead before heading to farm to make sure picking is still available.
• Weather conditions may affect picking, so if it’s raining or storms are predicted, call ahead.
• There’s no shade in the strawberry fields. Wear long pants, closed-toe shoes and a hat. Lather on sunscreen on any exposed skin.
• Wear dark clothing as juice tends to drip and you may get a little muddy.
• Check ahead on payment methods as some farms may not accept checks or credit/debit cards.
• Bring along a bottle of water if you plan to spend an extended amount of time picking.
• Look up recipes in advance of your U-pick visit so that you can make sure you have ingredients on hand for pies, muffins, jams, smoothies or other items you’ll make with your strawberries.
• Bring the camera. The green plants, red berries and blue skies are a beautiful canvas for some family shots.
Strawberry Jam and Pancake Syrup
This recipe makes both jam and syrup at one time.
2 cups strawberries, mashed with potato masher
1 cup sugar
Juice of one large lemon
DIRECTIONS: Cook lemon juice and sugar on low for about 10 minutes or until sugar dissolves. Add strawberries. Simmer for about 20 minutes. Strain juice. Transfer strawberries to glass jar, cover and refrigerate jam and use within a week. Return juice to saucepan. Bring to a boil and continue boiling for about 3 minutes. Turn off heat and let cool. Transfer syrup to glass jar and refrigerate to use within a week on pancakes or ice cream.
Places to pick strawberries:
Johnson’s Farm Produce
8960 Ridge Road
5911 W 50 South
Berrien Springs, Mich.